More often than not, this argument puts an end to any discussion regarding whether violence and intolerance are unique to Islam. Instead, the default answer becomes that it is not Islam per se but rather Muslim grievance and frustration—ever exacerbated by economic, political, and social factors—that lead to violence. That this view comports perfectly with the secular West
Therefore, before condemning the Qur
But is that really the case? Is the analogy with other scriptures legitimate? Does Hebrew violence in the ancient era, and Christian violence in the medieval era, compare to or explain away the tenacity of Muslim violence in the modern era?
Violence in Jewish and Christian History
Along with Armstrong, any number of prominent writers, historians, and theologians have championed this "relativist" view. For instance, John Esposito, director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, wonders,
How come we keep on asking the same question, [about violence in Islam,] and don
An article by
[I]n terms of ordering violence and bloodshed, any simplistic claim about the superiority of the Bible to the Koran would be wildly wrong. In fact, the Bible overflows with "texts of terror," to borrow a phrase coined by the American theologian Phyllis Trible. The Bible contains far more verses praising or urging bloodshed than does the Koran, and biblical violence is often far more extreme, and marked by more indiscriminate savagery. If the founding text shapes the whole religion, then Judaism and Christianity deserve the utmost condemnation as religions of savagery.
Several anecdotes from the Bible as well as from Judeo-Christian history illustrate Jenkins
The military conquest of the
But of the cities of these peoples which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, but you shall utterly destroy them—the Hittite, Amorite, Canaanite, Perizzite, Hivite, and Jebusite—just as the Lord your God has commanded you, lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God.
So Joshua [Moses
As for Christianity, since it is impossible to find New Testament verses inciting violence, those who espouse the view that Christianity is as violent as Islam rely on historical events such as the Crusader wars waged by European Christians between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. The Crusades were in fact violent and led to atrocities by the modern world
In light of the above, as Armstrong, Esposito, Jenkins, and others argue, why should Jews and Christians point to the Qur
Bible versus Qur
The answer lies in the fact that such observations confuse history and theology by conflating the temporal actions of men with what are understood to be the immutable words of God. The fundamental error is that Judeo-Christian history—which is violent—is being conflated with Islamic theology—which commands violence. Of course, the three major monotheistic religions have all had their share of violence and intolerance towards the "other." Whether this violence is ordained by God or whether warlike men merely wished it thus is the key question.
Old Testament violence is an interesting case in point. God clearly ordered the Hebrews to annihilate the Canaanites and surrounding peoples. Such violence is therefore an expression of God
This is where Islamic violence is unique. Though similar to the violence of the Old Testament—commanded by God and manifested in history—certain aspects of Islamic violence and intolerance have become standardized in Islamic law and apply at all times. Thus, while the violence found in the Qur
Then, when the sacred months are drawn away, slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer, and pay the alms, then let them go their way.
Fight those who believe not in God and the Last Day, and do not forbid what God and His Messenger have forbidden - such men as practise not the religion of truth, being of those who have been given the Book - until they pay the tribute out of hand and have been humbled.
As with Old Testament verses where God commanded the Hebrews to attack and slay their neighbors, the sword-verses also have a historical context. God first issued these commandments after the Muslims under Muhammad
In fact, based on the sword-verses as well as countless other Qur
In the Muslim community, the holy war [jihad] is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force ... The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty for them, save only for purposes of defense ... They are merely required to establish their religion among their own people. That is why the Israelites after Moses and Joshua remained unconcerned with royal authority [e.g., a caliphate]. Their only concern was to establish their religion [not spread it to the nations] But Islam is under obligation to gain power over other nations.
Modern authorities agree. The Encyclopaedia of Islam
When the Qur
The two Arabic conjunctions "until" (hata) and "wherever" (haythu) demonstrate the perpetual and ubiquitous nature of these commandments: There are still "people of the book" who have yet to be "utterly humbled" (especially in the Americas, Europe, and Israel) and "pagans" to be slain "wherever" one looks (especially Asia and sub-Saharan Africa). In fact, the salient feature of almost all of the violent commandments in Islamic scriptures is their open-ended and generic nature: "Fight them [non-Muslims] until there is no persecution and the religion is God
I have been commanded to wage war against mankind until they testify that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God; and that they establish prostration prayer, and pay the alms-tax [i.e., convert to Islam]. If they do so, their blood and property are protected. [Emphasis added.]
This linguistic aspect is crucial to understanding scriptural exegeses regarding violence. Again, it bears repeating that neither Jewish nor Christian scriptures—the Old and New Testaments, respectively—employ such perpetual, open-ended commandments. Despite all this, Jenkins laments that
Commands to kill, to commit ethnic cleansing, to institutionalize segregation, to hate and fear other races and religions
all are in the Bible, and occur with a far greater frequency than in the Qur
One wonders what Jenkins has in mind by the word "canonized." If by canonized he means that such verses are considered part of the canon of Judeo-Christian scripture, he is absolutely correct; conversely, if by canonized he means or is trying to connote that these verses have been implemented in the Judeo-Christian Weltanschauung, he is absolutely wrong.
Yet one need not rely on purely exegetical and philological arguments; both history and current events give the lie to Jenkins
Moreover, concerning the current default position which purports to explain away Islamic violence—that the latter is a product of Muslim frustration vis-Ã -vis political or economic oppression—one must ask: What about all the oppressed Christians and Jews, not to mention Hindus and Buddhists, of the world today? Where is their religiously-garbed violence? The fact remains: Even though the Islamic world has the lion
For instance, even though practically all of sub-Saharan Africa is currently riddled with political corruption, oppression and poverty, when it comes to violence, terrorism, and sheer chaos, Somalia—which also happens to be the only sub-Saharan country that is entirely Muslim—leads the pack. Moreover, those most responsible for Somali violence and the enforcement of intolerant, draconian, legal measures—the members of the jihadi group Al-Shabab (the youth)—articulate and justify all their actions through an Islamist paradigm.
Latin American and non-Muslim Asian countries also have their fair share of oppressive, authoritarian regimes, poverty, and all the rest that the Muslim world suffers. Yet, unlike the near daily headlines emanating from the Islamic world, there are no records of practicing Christians, Buddhists, or Hindus crashing explosives-laden vehicles into the buildings of oppressive (e.g., Cuban or Chinese communist) regimes, all the while waving their scriptures in hand and screaming, "Jesus [or Buddha or Vishnu] is great!" Why?
There is one final aspect that is often overlooked—either from ignorance or disingenuousness—by those who insist that violence and intolerance is equivalent across the board for all religions. Aside from the divine words of the Qur
Sarcastically arguing against the concept of moderate Islam, for example, terrorist Osama bin Laden, who enjoys half the Arab-Islamic world
"Moderation" is demonstrated by our prophet who did not remain more than three months in
In fact, based on both the Qur
But it does mean that persons naturally inclined to such activities, and who also happen to be Muslim, can—and do—quite easily justify their actions by referring to the "Sunna of the Prophet"—the way Al-Qaeda, for example, justified its attacks on 9/11 where innocents including women and children were killed: Muhammad authorized his followers to use catapults during their siege of the town of Ta
Jewish and Christian Ways
Though law-centric and possibly legalistic, Judaism has no such equivalent to the Sunna; the words and deeds of the patriarchs, though described in the Old Testament, never went on to prescribe Jewish law. Neither Abraham
As for Christianity, much of the Old Testament law was abrogated or fulfilled—depending on one
Still, there are those who attempt to portray Jesus as having a similarly militant ethos as Muhammad by quoting the verse where the former—who "spoke to the multitudes in parables and without a parable spoke not"—said, "I come not to bring peace but a sword." But based on the context of this statement, it is clear that Jesus was not commanding violence against non-Christians but rather predicting that strife will exist between Christians and their environment—a prediction that was only too true as early Christians, far from taking up the sword, passively perished by the sword in martyrdom as too often they still do in the Muslim world. 
Others point to the violence predicted in the Book of Revelation while, again, failing to discern that the entire account is descriptive—not to mention clearly symbolic—and thus hardly prescriptive for Christians. At any rate, how can one conscionably compare this handful of New Testament verses that metaphorically mention the word "sword" to the literally hundreds of Qur
Undeterred, Jenkins bemoans the fact that, in the New Testament, Jews "plan to stone Jesus, they plot to kill him; in turn, Jesus calls them liars, children of the Devil." It still remains to be seen if being called "children of the Devil" is more offensive than being referred to as the descendents of apes and pigs—the Qur
Does this mean that no self-professed Christian can be anti-Semitic? Of course not. But it does mean that Christian anti-Semites are living oxymorons—for the simple reason that textually and theologically, Christianity, far from teaching hatred or animosity, unambiguously stresses love and forgiveness. Whether or not all Christians follow such mandates is hardly the point; just as whether or not all Muslims uphold the obligation of jihad is hardly the point. The only question is, what do the religions command?
John Esposito is therefore right to assert that "Jews and Christians have engaged in acts of violence." He is wrong, however, to add, "We [Christians] have our own theology of hate." Nothing in the New Testament teaches hate—certainly nothing to compare with Qur
Reassessing the Crusades
And it is from here that one can best appreciate the historic Crusades—events that have been thoroughly distorted by Islam
The fact remains: The Crusades were a counterattack on Islam—not an unprovoked assault as Armstrong and other revisionist historians portray. Eminent historian Bernard Lewis puts it well,
Even the Christian crusade, often compared with the Muslim jihad, was itself a delayed and limited response to the jihad and in part also an imitation. But unlike the jihad, it was concerned primarily with the defense or reconquest of threatened or lost Christian territory. It was, with few exceptions, limited to the successful wars for the recovery of southwest Europe, and the unsuccessful wars to recover the
Moreover, Muslim invasions and atrocities against Christians were on the rise in the decades before the launch of the Crusades in 1096. The Fatimid caliph Abu
It was against this backdrop that Pope Urban II (r. 1088-1099) called for the Crusades:
From the confines of Jerusalem and the city of Constantinople a horrible tale has gone forth and very frequently has been brought to our ears, namely, that a race from the kingdom of the Persians [i.e., Muslim Turks] has invaded the lands of those Christians and has depopulated them by the sword, pillage and fire; it has led away a part of the captives into its own country, and a part it has destroyed by cruel tortures; it has either entirely destroyed the churches of God or appropriated them for the rites of its own religion.
Even though Urban II
In fact, far from suggesting anything intrinsic to Christianity, the Crusades ironically better help explain Islam. For what the Crusades demonstrated once and for all is that irrespective of religious teachings—indeed, in the case of these so-called Christian Crusades, despite them—man is often predisposed to violence. But this begs the question: If this is how Christians behaved—who are commanded to love, bless, and do good to their enemies who hate, curse, and persecute them—how much more can be expected of Muslims who, while sharing the same violent tendencies, are further commanded by the Deity to attack, kill, and plunder nonbelievers?
Raymond Ibrahim is associate director of the Middle East Forum and author of The Al Qaeda Reader (
 Andrea Bistrich, "Discovering the common grounds of world religions," interview with Karen Armstrong, Share International, Sept. 2007, pp. 19-22.
 C-SPAN2, June 5, 2004.
 Philip Jenkins, "Dark Passages," The
 Deut. 20:16-18.
 Josh. 10:40.
 "The Fall of Jerusalem," Gesta Danorum, accessed Apr. 2, 2009.
 Qur. 9:5. All translations of Qur
 Qur. 9:29.
 Qur. 2:256.
 Ibn Khaldun, The Muqudimmah: An Introduction to History, Franz Rosenthal, trans. (New York: Pantheon, 1958,) vol. 1, p. 473.
 Majid Khadduri, War and Peace in the Law of Islam (London: Oxford University Press, 1955), p. 60.
 See, for instance, Ahmed Mahmud Karima, Al-Jihad fi
 Qur. 9:29.
 Qur. 9:5.
 Qur. 8:39.
 Ibn al-Hajjaj Muslim, Sahih Muslim, C9B1N31; Muhammad Ibn Isma
 Jenkins, "Dark_Passages."
 Qur. 33:21.
 "Al-Jazeera-Poll: 49% of Muslims Support Osama bin Laden," Sept. 7-10, 2006, accessed Apr. 2, 2009.
 For example, Qur. 4:24, 4:92, 8:69, 24:33, 33:50.
 Sahih Muslim, B19N4321; for English translation, see Raymond Ibrahim, The Al Qaeda Reader (
 Matt. 22:38-40.
 Matt. 13:34.
 Matt. 10:34.
 See, for instance, "Christian Persecution Info," Christian Persecution Magazine, accessed Apr. 2, 2009.
 Jenkins, "Dark_Passages."
 Qur. 2:62-65, 5:59-60, 7:166.
 Qur. 60:4.
 Bistrich, "Discovering the common grounds of world religions," pp. 19-22; For a critique of Karen Armstrong
 See, for example, the writings of Sophrinius,
 Bernard Lewis, The
 "Speech of Urban—Robert of Rheims," in Edward Peters, ed., The First Crusade: The Chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres and Other Source Materials (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), p. 27.
 Matt. 5:44.
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